Why would anyone want to buy the rights to The Simpsons hit Do the Bartman?

The 1990s song, once rumoured to be written by Michael Jackson, is unlikely to enjoy a rerelease any time soon. But that hasn’t stopped an anonymous buyer paying nearly $40,000 for it

It was a novelty hit a quarter of a century ago and no one has given it so much as a second thought since. But now an anonymous bidder has paid $38,500 to buy the composition rights to Do the Bartman, a spin‑off song from The Simpsons cartoon series.

It was long rumoured that Michael Jackson co-wrote the song with music producer Bryan Loren. Loren has subsequently denied that, claiming that he wrote 100% of the song. But Jackson did come up with the title, sang backing vocals and requested that he make a cameo in the lyrics (“Eat your heart out, Michael! Woop!”).

These days, Do the Bartman is more of a historical curio than a cash cow, having earned a mere $4,374 in royalties in the past 12 months. It has been played just over 342,000 times on Spotify, which would have generated around $300 in publishing royalties to date. It is believed that Sony/ATV will remain as the song’s publisher, and will continue to collect royalties and approve commercial uses.

Sony/ATV will not reveal who bought the rights to the song or which other Loren compositions were included in the rights-bundle auction. Loren did also co-write the track Superfly Sister, from Jackson’s 1997 remix album Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, which would certainly appear to have more money-making potential.

Do the Bartman was never released as a single in the US but was a No 1 hit in the UK for three weeks in late 1990 and by February 1991 it had been certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry, marking sales in excess of 200,000. That was its moment in the sun and it is now most likely to earn any residual income from use in TV nostalgia shows.

So why buy Do the Bartman? “I see it in the same way that someone might spend $20,000 for a cel of animation from the show,” says music industry lawyer Cliff Fluet, a partner at the legal firm Lewis Silkin. He adds that 25 years ago, the song enjoyed significant airplay and CD sales as both a single and as part of The Simpsons Sing the Blues album, but that income dried up a long time ago.

Perhaps it was bought in the quixotic belief that the rumours of the Jackson co-write were true. Loren has now extinguished any hope of that and, even if that were the case, the song would almost certainly become the subject of a legal claim by the Jackson estate.

What is more, uncoupled from the original master recording, on which Nancy Cartwright provides the voice of Bart Simpson, the track is effectively worthless as a piece of intellectual property. After all, the new owner is unlikely to have hordes of people knocking down his or her door to record their own versions of it.

“Do the Bartman is uncoverable, so it’s not a great investment,” says Fluet. “It’s like buying an area of the moon and naming a crater. Buying the rights was much more about grabbing a bit of memorabilia rather than a revenue generator.”


Eamonn Forde

The GuardianTramp

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